Mino Han, who joined Peter & Kim’s Seoul office in 2019, is an expert in arbitration and litigation, project finance, international project contracting and joint ventures and consortia. He has advised on international arbitrations conducted under the auspices of the ICC, SIAC, KCAB or JCAA. He also regularly counsels clients on issuing or defending claims arising out of standard form contracts including the FIDIC Suite of Contracts.
ALB: Tell us about your legal career so far, and what led you to taking up this role.
Han: After having served as a judge advocate in the Korean Navy for three years, my legal career as private practitioner blossomed in 2012, in the international arbitration team of Bae, Kim & Lee that was led back then by Kevin Kim. It was fascinating how the team was striving to do its own advocacy without the need to rely on English or American co-counsel.
Dreaming of doing oral advocacy at a hearing podium one day, I was fortunate to partake in oral advocacy since my fifth year as an associate in a number of different cases. That included cross-examining not only fact witnesses but also a technical expert, a quantum expert, and a legal expert.
I was, therefore, captivated by the idea of Kevin Kim to launch an international arbitration specialized boutique firm where every member has an opportunity to participate in advocacy where possible. I was especially thrilled that two-star practitioners in this field established this platform and decided to join as founding member of Peter & Kim.
ALB: How would you describe the firm’s strategy?
Han: Peter & Kim’s primary strategy is to focus on what we are good at: dispute resolution. As a boutique practice, we have the advantage of not being bound to any long-standing corporate clients, which is a major concern at full-service law firms. In other words, we are generally free of conflicts. This, in turn, allows us to focus on how to resolve each matter at hand without the extensive baggage of numerous conflicts.
Another strategy of our firm is to focus and play on our civil law strengths. Singapore and Hong Kong are both known as arbitration hubs in Asia – however, both jurisdictions have a strong common law tradition. This places us uniquely to fill a big void in the disputes landscape. While we are available to provide our expertise to our clients and other law firms in common law jurisdictions, we also have an unparalleled advantage in representing civil law matters involving parties from countries such as Japan, China, Indonesia, and Vietnam.
ALB: How do you feel the pandemic will reshape not just the way your firm operates, but also the legal services industry in your jurisdiction?
Han: I anticipate more virtual communication to become part of our daily life in the office. This will reshape how we communicate with each other. In that regard, oral communication will probably become more important than before (when, for instance, email communication was considered more important). Many networking events will be done virtually. Also, law firms will be doing promotional events virtually.
The increased use of technology will likely result in fewer in-person meetings and far few in-person business trips. Lawyers will increasingly become mobile and will be working from home. These trends are already reflected globally.
ALB: What kind of internal culture is the firm looking to foster?
Han: It is very important because the law firm culture directly impacts how members interact and communicate with each other. The way members of a law firm interact and communicate with each other (which depends on how the law firm culture is shaped) impacts how happy law firm members are. Only when each law firm member is happy can we make others, including our clients, happy and achieve our desired results. We are, therefore, strong believers of Gandhi’s adage “be the change you want to see in the world.” Likewise, for happy clients, we need happy lawyers!
One of the most important firm cultures is being open to cultural diversity. We believe that people from different backgrounds think and act differently. A diverse team with an open and transparent firm culture ensures that team synergy is maximized, and communications are better understood with others (including amongst ourselves). Being a good listener is key to becoming and acting as a good dispute resolution lawyer.
ALB: On that note, how would you describe your hiring and talent retention strategy? What kinds of lawyers would make the best fit for your firm?
Han: We want to hire lawyers who are striving to become a good and persuasive advocate. That requires being open to other thoughts and other people. This also requires one to be a good communicator and a good listener.
ALB: What are the keys to succeeding in this market for a firm of your size and focus? What are you currently doing well, and what are potential areas of improvement for you?
Han: The key is to be good and to be known to be good. To be good, a law firm needs talented advocates. Further, to be known to be good, a law firm would need a good network and trustworthy relationships with lawyers and law firms in other jurisdictions. We have been doing this well on these parameters and are going to continue this in the future.
Our next goal is to service clients in countries that engage actively in international trade and commerce (and hence have potentially many cross-border disputes) but have less experience in resolving a dispute and presenting their position to a third party. That apart, we will continue to increase our stronghold in matters pertaining to Korea, Japan, China, Indonesia and Vietnam.
ALB: Where would you like to see the firm five years from now?
Han: In five years, I would like to see our firm to be known as the “go-to” law firm in Korea for international arbitration and cross-border disputes. In terms of variety of cases, I envision our firm to have a portfolio in which around half of the cases are between parties that are not from Korea. Also, in five years from now, it would be great if Peter & Kim would have become a platform in which the next generation arbitration practitioners (under the age of 45) could pursue their dreams and become future stars.
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